Chapter 8: Life for the Family in the 1940s
The family farm was located on the Harney Road east of Emmitsburg, and the two sons attended Emmitsburg schools.
The school bus came right to the door and picked them up each morning and returned them in the evening. The sons did the farm
chores both before and after school.
Helen was a very good cook and very fast and efficient. She always helped in the fields with corn husking.
She could go back to the house and put a meal together in a few minutes.
During this period of time, Norman
Wetzel was a widower who
lived alone about one-half mile from the farm. He helped on the farm with threshings, silo fillings, wood cutting, and maintenance
work, and whenever an extra farm hand was needed. He often said that he liked to work at the Fuss place because of Helen's
cooking. His help was no longer needed when John Jr. and Meade grew older and were able to pitch in.
The daily and constant farm chores prevented the family from taking many trips or vacations. One exception
occurred in 1939 when the World's Fair was held in New York City. Edward stayed with his Grandmother Ohler and Aunt Emma, while
John, Helen and John Jr. drove to New York. The one way trip took all day. They left early in the morning and had a brief
stop at Valley Forge Historical Park. Then they crossed through the Lincoln Tunnel under the Hudson River. John was not
accustomed to driving so fast in an unfamiliar area. There were policemen stationed at intervals inside the tunnel, who kept
motioning for him to go faster. They left on a Friday and returned on Monday. On Saturday they all visited the World's
Fairgrounds. On Sunday, John visited his Aunt Virginia Troxell while Helen and John Jr. spent a second day at the Fair. They
stayed overnight with their Aunt Zora Corke and the Kelsos.
Their were no other overnight vacations for the whole family for a number of years. John visited his two
aunts in New York City on two or three occasions when he went by bus or car with someone else one day and came back the next day or next
evening. John Jr. went with his Uncle Elmer and family to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, for two days in 1942. The family also
took one or two trips to Hershey Park, and a one-day boat trip from Baltimore across the bay to Tolchester and back.
Other than that, the family took few vacations because of the economic conditions of the late 1930s and the
wartime travel restrictions in effect from 1941 through 1945. During the 1940s John and Helen opened their home to relatives and
friends. The Altoff family were neighbors who lived on an adjoining farm for a few years. Mr. Altoff was a steel worker who
lost his job in the Depression. So he bought this farm with the hope of making a livelihood, but was not successful.
The Altoffs moved back to Pittsburgh when economic conditions improved in the late 1930s, but then Mr. Altoff
died. Mrs. Altoff lived with her sister and brother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Rhoades. Mr. and Mrs. Rhoades and their
daughter Shirley brought Mrs. Altoff to stay with John and Helen for up to a week during the summer. Her visit generally occurred
over the 4th of July holiday. For all of the extra work, food, board, and so on, that this entailed, Helen generally received
nothing, although the family received a nice box of Christmas gifts each year.
On another occasion, a family by the name of Gloninger came and stayed for one week. They had lived in
Emmitsburg at one time and wanted to have a place to stay in the country for a week. They did pay a boarding fee. This
arrangement lasted for only one year, because boarders were somewhat difficult to deal with.
More congenial guests were John's two aunts from New York, Virginia and Zora. Missoura Fuss had married
Charles Corke, an English immigrant, who was a police officer in New York, where he had died in the line of duty many years before.
Virginia was now widowed. They began visiting their native Emmitsburg area in the mid-1940s. They first stayed with other
relatives, but this did not work out very well, so they began staying regularly with John and Helen.
Zora's visits continued until shortly before her death in 1963. Her visits generally occurred in August to
early September. She helped with canning and other household tasks. She returned to New York with a number of large boxes
filled with items that she had helped to can.
During this period of time, John found himself involved in a business relationship with the telephone company.
An association called the Locust Grove Telephone Company provided telephone services for eight subscribers in the Harney Road area.
J. Rowe Ohler had been one of the founders. This line connected to the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company lines at the
That company sent only one bill to the Locust Grove Telephone Company. When John moved to the Locust
Grove farm, he was appointed head of the association. He received the bills from the telephone company and had to pay them in
their entirety. Then he would have to collect from the individual subscribers. Sometimes the subscribers claimed they
hadn't made the call and then John would either have to work it out with the telephone company or pay it himself. He did not
relish this function.
John and Helen were very active with Toms Creek Methodist Church. Ephraim Grimes was a gentleman in his
seventies who taught the Men's Bible Class there for many years. Around 1942, some of the men from the church convinced John that
he should teach the class. He agreed to do so, with great success, as it became a great learning experience for everyone involved.
After a few years, he announced that he was not going to teach every Sunday because he wanted everyone else to have the experience.
A few years later, he convinced everyone in the class to take their turn to teach, including one man who only had about a third grade
education and could hardly read. However, he too got up and led discussions while others read.
To me, this feat was an amazing show of leadership to accomplish in a volunteer Sunday School Class. John
also served as Sunday School Superintendent for at least two or three years and was on the Board of the Church for many years.
John remained in very good health, but suffered several accidents. On January 8, 1941, he was completing
the chores one evening and slid down from a fodder pile in the upstairs of the barn. He did not land properly, but fell about 20
feet to the barnyard below. He managed to struggle to the house where he collapsed as he was coming in the door. Dr. Cadle
was summoned and came promptly.
He diagnosed internal injuries and wanted to take John to the hospital. John refused to go, so the doctor
visited several times each day for two or three days. John was bedridden, but recovered in about two weeks. In the meantime,
Helen took care of all the milking and farm work, with some help from relatives and neighbors.
That same summer, John also injured himself while making hay. Using the horse to pull the hay into the
mow, he was unloading the hay with a hay fork. When the load was nearly finished, John used a smaller fork to throw some hay
across when he slipped off the wagon and fell on the side of the mow. His ribs were fractured. He went to Dr. Cadle's office
where he was bandaged, and he continued to work on a limited basis until the healing was completed.
John kept a prolific garden. The property was spring fed through a reservoir which used gravity to provide
water in abundant supply for irrigating the garden. Combined with plenty of fertilizer and great care, this led to a bountiful
harvest of all kinds of vegetables. Most were canned in glass jars in a pressure cooker for use throughout the year. In the
1950s, the family acquired a freezer and some of the vegetables were frozen. But by and large most were preserved by home canning
in glass jars.
During the early years on the farm, the eggs produced there had been purchased by a local man by the name of Hubert Joy, who came to the farm and picked up the
eggs as they were. Later, eggs were sold to a local merchant who either resold them through the store or took them to Baltimore to
sell. Around 1939 a Westminster Egg Cooperative of farmers in Carroll County and Frederick County was established. They sold
only high grade eggs, which required the cleaning of the eggs with a sandpaper brush followed by their weighing. Helen cleaned all
of the eggs every day. After gathering them, she would have them all cleaned within a few hours and taken to the cellar.
John Jr. then weighed each egg individually on a scale and sorted them by color (brown or white) and by size. This required a lot
of effort, but the eggs brought an extra five to ten cents per dozen when sold.
For the first few years of operation, the cooperative provided a truck which picked up the eggs at each farm.
Then in the late 1940s this service was discontinued and the eggs had to be taken to Westminster weekly. The Tyson Welty family
lived on an adjoining farm and were selling their eggs in the same fashion, so the two families alternated in taking the eggs from both
farms to Westminster.
In the summertime, wheat was hauled to the barn. Then a threshing machine came and spent one or two days
threshing the grain. These machines were owned first by Lloyd Ohler and, after about 1946, by Otis Shoemaker. A crew of
about ten men arrived to do the threshing quickly and efficiently. Then John and John Jr. helped neighbors in exchange for their
help on the Fuss farm. By the 1950s combines were utilized to harvest the grain, and threshing was discontinued.
In early September, silo filling took place. For a number of years, Tyson Welty came with his sons and
their silage cutter and the two families worked together in a labor exchange to fill the silo. This task was also replaced in the
1950s by Forage harvesters which reduced much of the labor.
Family income was still quite low, less than $10,000 a year. In 1946, the total income for the year was as
- Milk $2,707.93
- Calves $235.85
- Eggs $1,686.73
- Hogs $696.90
- Livestock $421.10
- Sheep & Wool $302.33
- Chickens $173.98
- Total income $6,224.82
- Less Farm Expenses $4,373.36
- Net Income $1,851.46
This represented long hours of hard work for John, Helen, and their two sons. This was a typical year for
the family during the 1940s.
Mrs. Annie Ohler, Helen's mother, lived in the house on the hill, just beyond John and Helen's farm. This
house had been built in 1907 when she and J. Rowe Ohler moved from their farm. Annie Ohler was bedridden for about five years, and
was cared for lovingly by Emma, a registered nurse, until her death on November 28, 1945.
In the following spring, Emma held a sale of her mother's personal properties, except for the things that she
herself needed. She then moved into John and Helen's home. She had her own room, but shared meals with the rest of the
family. She soon resumed nursing, taking up mostly private duties at Gettysburg Hospital or in individual homes. In 1948,
she decided she wanted to live separately, and she rented one-half of a house with May Grushon at 124 East Main Street in Emmitsburg.
Throughout this time, she had a very close relationship with John and Helen. She mentioned many times how
wonderful they were to her and took her in. She must have recalled how she had acted when they were planning to be married.
John's mother lived at 115 East Main Street in Emmitsburg and she was cared for in her later years by her
daughter Carrie. She died at the age of 98 in January 1963.
During the late 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s, John and Helen always took their family to his mother's home for
Thanksgiving. The entire clan, with the exception of Robert who lived in California, always gathered for the Thanksgiving Day
dinner. The young people often played in either the large basement or the attic.
On Christmas Day, John and Helen went to the Ohler's where the entire family gathered. Since two sisters
had married two brothers, some of the holiday celebrants were the same.
Easter Sunday was generally spent at the Annie Ohler residence until her death in 1945. Throughout this
entire period, both John and Helen had a close relationship with their parents. John visited his mother almost every Saturday
evening when the family went to town for the weekly shopping expedition. Helen visited her mother regularly in her later years,
especially when she was bedridden. Visits were also exchanged with the Elmer Fuss family. Roselia and Lloyd visited John's
family for two or three days each summer, and John Jr. visited the Elmer Fuss family for the same period of time. Later Robert and
Meade, who were the same age, exchanged visits in a similar manner.
John could play the piano either with or without music. There might be long periods of time when he did not
touch it, but he was always able to pick it up immediately.
In 1944 Meade was stricken with rheumatic fever. He had received a small toy axe as a Christmas gift, and
spent one afternoon cutting down a small tree, thus overexerting himself. Dr. Cadle said it could have a permanent effect on his
heart. His parents restricted his activities for awhile, but there was no permanent impairment.
There was little change in ownership of the farms around John and Helen, so the neighborhood remained quite
stable during these years. Carroll and Daisy Frock moved to the farm to the south and southeast in 1936 and lived there this
entire period. Their two sons were close to the Fuss boys in age. To the east was Helen's birthplace, now farmed by Charles
and Alice Clackin. To the north was the McNair property that remained in that family until 1988. Tyson and Buelah Welty
farmed to the northwest. Scott McNair and his wife occupied the farm due west. To the south and southwest was the farm where
John and Helen had started their married life and lived for three years. It was owned by John's mother until 1946 and was farmed
by two tenants. An investor owned it for a short while until it was purchased by the Long family.
With the death of Annie Ohler, Helen inherited 115 acres of woodland behind that property and adjoining the
Factory Farm property acquired in 1936. The northern border of this tract was the Mason & Dixon Line. This brought the
farm's total acreage to over 280 acres.
In 1942, during the Second World War, the Army post at Camp Ritchie about ten miles away was expanded as an
Officer Candidate Training School. The Army used the surrounding countryside for training. For a two year period, soldiers
trained on the farm from time to time, but averaging about once each week. These activities took place mostly at night, when the
trainees were dropped off along the road and required to move cross country to some landmark. Often the soldiers came to the house
Read Chapter 9: Later Years on the Farm
previously posted chapters of the life and times of John and Helen Fuss